by Stan Lemon
Following a growing list of bad sequels by Marvel, The Fantastic Four: The Rise of the Silver Surfer steps into line right behind Spider-Man 3. Marked by a rather well-written introduction, our four fantastic friends, Mr. Fantastic, the Thing, Torch and the Invisible Girl, return in this sequel – which,sadly, is ruined by convenient story changes and an unnecessarily sappy wedding twist.
The story begins with Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Girl finally tying the knot. If you remember, the last movie ended with a romantic exchange between these two lovebirds involving a gasket from the space station as a makeshift ring. These two characters are entangled in a web of media frenzy, and we're apparently witnessing their fourth (or is it fifth??) attempt at getting hitched.
Meanwhile, the world is quickly approaching its doom, as the Silver Surfer (unknown by that name at this point) soars around the planet, changing the climate and drilling huge holes in the ground. The wedding ends abruptly as the Silver Surfer happens to whiz through the city of New York – but not before Stan Lee, Marvel creator, makes a guest appearance arriving to the wedding. It's so convenient that the Silver Surfer appears at the wedding, you could have predicted it during the opening credits.
The Silver Surfer is eventually downed by a tachyon pulse, the blast of a theoretical particle which travels faster than light. (Has Marvel stooped to borrowing technology from Star Trek now?). This pulse throws the surfer off of his board, a true “wipe out,” thus rendering him powerless. He is captured by none other than the villainous military thugs who whisk him away to a secret compound, sadly reminiscent of one of Marvel's better movies, X-Men 2. While the goons are off torturing the Silver Surfer, the Fantastic Four are busy trying to figure out how to pull off his jail-break. Did I mention Dr. Doom even comes into play?
Another convenient plot twist occurs when the Silver Surfer (before he is caught) just happens to soar over Latveria. For those unfamiliar with Marvel comics, Latveria is a small country tucked away between Hungary, Romania and Serbia. The country is ruled by Doctor Doom, whom we see at the conclusion of the first movie entombed in a crate being shipped off on a freight liner labeled “Latveria.” Did I mention Latveria has no access to a body of water? Presumably our villain resides in the capitol city of Doomstadt, still entombed from his last encounter with the Fantastic Four. But, conveniently for Doom, the Silver Surfer flies over this micro-state, triggering some unexplained reaction which gives life to Doom. The process isn't incomplete, because one of Doom's assistants helps him by cutting pieces of steel from his body. The audience isn't quite sure as this convenient aide is not explained.
Dr. Doom is now free, and with no explanation, he flies away in a helicopter with fancy scientific equipment to find our silver friend. Marvel really did fans an injustice on this one, failing to explain about the Doom empire to those who may not be comic-savvy. Doom teams up with the military and, reluctantly, the Fantastic Four in order to take on the Silver Surfer. If you didn't see it coming I'll spoil it now: Dr. Doom has another plan in store...when the Four finally free the Silver Surfer from the compound where he's been confined, Doom runs off with his surfboard, which is (of course) the source of the Silver Surfer's power, and thus makes Doom even more powerful.
In the end, Doom is defeated only by the combined powers of the Fantastic Four, which is (conveniently) made possible since the Human Torch contracted a mutation from the Silver Surfer which exchanges his powers with those of the others. Even more amazing is how this mutation suddenly changes form “swapping” to “absorbing” and thus all of the other's powers are united in the Torch and can finally defeat Dr. Doom.
The movie wraps up, with the exchange of the Invisible Woman (who dies after battling Dr. Doom) for the Silver Surfer, whom we learn has been sent to earth by some mysterious demi-god who eats planets. The Silver Surfer’s job is to direct him to the tasty planets, so that his own home planet might be saved. If this doesn't sound strange enough, then be prepared for more. The movie finally ends with the Surfer going kamikaze on the Planet-Eater, resurrecting the Invisible Woman, and restoring all of the Fantastic Fours’ powers to them.
The moral to the story? Everyone has a choice, even the Silver Surfer who does the bidding of the Planet-Eater. In the end, the Surfer's choice is to stop the Planet-Eater.
If you can make it through the twists, turns and convenient plot changes to the end, you'll find this an anti-climatic build to a modern-day decision theology. There is no free gift for the Silver Surfer, and there is no gift for the Fantastic Four. Everything is based upon what they earned or taken, and the choices they have made. It's no wonder that the Invisible Woman doesn't quite seem satisfied with the direction of her life, or why the Torch feeds only off of his entrepreneurship, or even why the Silver Surfer looks so down and out about his predicament. Ironically, only Dr. Doom gets it – in the last movie, he said to the Invisible Woman, “Do you really think Gate turned us into gods so we could refuse these gifts?” For Dr. Doom, his evil powers comes as nothing but gift, they exist outside of himself and he reaps the benefits of them. It's sad that the best theology in this movie is found in the words of the evil villain.
One other cool reference worth noting in this latest edition of the Fantastic Four series is when Mr. Fantastic discovers the vocation of the Silver Surfer, he says, “Everywhere he goes, 8 days later it dies.” What beautiful baptismal imagery! The Silver Surfer (if you can get past the other bad theology) is like a planetary baptizer! Eight is a baptismal number, for eight people were saved in the ark when God flood the earth, destroying all life on it. Eight is also a baptismal number as we remember the circumcision of our forefathers, who were saved by the promise of God attached to this earthly act performed 8 days after birth. Perhaps the evil guys in this movie do get a bad rap. Eight days, and the old planet died so that the new one might live? All is gift for Dr. Doom? Sounds like Dr. Doom might be a little bit Lutheran!
If you're a Marvel fan you've got to go see this movie – even if you see it simply because you're a Marvel fan. If you're not, save your money and hit up Shrek, or Ocean's 13 instead. A little more explanation, a lot less wedding and fewer less-than-convenient story changes could have put this movie on my shelf next to the X-Men Trilogy and the first two Spider-Man's. Instead it’s getting filed away with Daredevil, Elektra and Spider-Man 3 – somewhere in the attic.
Pucker up movie goers! I give Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer four out of four lemons, which makes for one sour movie!
Created: July 2nd, 2007